Robert Greene on Self-Reliance

“We were born as an individual. Every single human being is born as a completely unique creation. Your DNA, your experiences, your brain and the way it’s wired; there will never be another one like you. And always in life we’re running away from that. And we want other people to help us.”

–Robert Greene

Robert Greene is the author behind some of the most influential books in my life, including The 48 Laws of Power, and Mastery.  And as always, his analysis on something as mundane as self-reliance becomes this deep insight into the human experience, especially of the modern American.

Most of us don’t even realize the level of dependence that we have, how much we need other things and people and entertainment and groups to help us through our lives. We don’t strive to become self-reliant, in fact being independent of any group, or having thoughts outside what is acceptable is often demonized. You don’t fit a mold, as creatures of pattern, not fitting a mold is absolutely unacceptable. You cannot be an individual, you must identify with a particular group, you must wear that group’s clothing style, you must proselytize their ideals, and you must live your life in accordance with their rules.

Yet we often claim we are unique, individuals, that our choices are our own. Marketing doesn’t work on us, we pick our own clothing style, we choose what music we like best, and our ideas about how the world and other people work are derived from ourselves. But when it comes to others, we group them into little boxes: Hipsters, Jocks, Goths, Nerds, Blacks, Whites (you get the idea). And in a sense, we are willing to admit that a bit of ourselves is determined by trends and the other people who look like us. More and more we begin to notice how our own ideas of individualism are really an illusion. We don’t stitch our own clothing, we don’t create our own music, we don’t really pick anything for ourselves. Then a sudden realization washes over the mind:

“You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re the all singing, all dancing crap of the world.” 

Fight Club

Why do we do this?

Because we are running away from being an individual.

Being an individual does not afford us the same level of safety and comfort as being a part of a group. The less individualistic we are, the more reliant on the thoughts and actions of others we become. After a while we begin to despise the thought of self-reliance. We think it is a dirty word, meant for those who won’t follow the rules, or who refuse to be a part of the society we have created. Worse, we actively ostracize anyone who dares to become self-reliant. It is ingrained in our culture to be dependent.

“I think it [self-reliance] is more important now than ever, because I see Americans becoming a culture of dependence in a way. We came from a culture in the 19th Century of people who lived off the land, that were incredibly self-reliant… to a culture of dependence. People have become dependent on a very simple level on technology; they have become dependent on entertainment if they’re bored in any way to divert them; they have become dependent on drugs, prescription medicine… We’ve become dependent on everything to help us in life… we’re not developing from within.”

–Robert Green

Developing From Within

This post is not about eschewing every aspect of modern living and becoming a luddite. It is about recognizing that our dependence on our environment to help us through life is not a virtue, it is the central point of our own personal degeneration. Every moment spent watching TV, scrolling through Facebook, posting on Snapchat, drinking beers on the weekend, popping prescription pills to calm us down; it is all carefully stealing our own self-reliance, inch by inch, day after day. We must fight back!

We have to develop ourselves from within. How? By becoming aware of our dependence and taking small actions to take back our minds. That might mean cutting off the TV earlier and earlier until we stop watching it all together; or getting off prescription drugs; or working on our own personal fitness. To be self-reliant is to create a sense of peace, calm, and determination at the center of our being.

It is crucial to not only feel self-reliant, but know that if we were truly left on our own, we would not only survive, we would thrive.




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